dkSez : : : : : : Don Kahle's blog

Quips, queries, and querulous quibbles from the quirky mind of Don Kahle

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Greta Refuses to Believe in Evil. She Should.

September 27th, 2019 by dk

Greta Thunberg dispensed with ceremonial niceties when she addressed this week’s United Nations Climate Action Summit in New York. Her message started with thunder. She came to rain on her elders’ parade. Here’s how she began:

“My message is that we’ll be watching you. This is all wrong. I shouldn’t be up here. I should be back in school on the other side of the ocean. Yet you all come to us young people for hope. How dare you!”

She upbraided world leaders for their tepid remedies to collapsing ecosystems and the beginning of a mass extinction, preferring fairy tales of unending economic prosperity and “Deus ex machina” tech solutions that will save the day. (I’ll have more to say about the Deus part in a moment.)

She recounted the scientific numbers that could spell our extinction. “There will not be any solutions or plans presented … here today, because… you are still not mature enough to tell it like it is. You are failing us. … The eyes of all future generations are upon you. And if you choose to fail us, I say: We will never forgive you. We will not let you get away with this.”

Speaking to hundreds of professional diplomats, Greta was purposefully undiplomatic. But there was a Rubicon she would not cross:

“You say you hear us and that you understand the urgency. But … I do not want to believe that. Because if you really understood the situation and still kept on failing to act, then you would be evil. And that I refuse to believe.”

Believe it, Greta. Our modern world order has developed a giant blind spot, because we cannot accept evil in our world and in our adversaries. Some of our most vexing problems defy solutions because we cannot acknowledge those who feel no shame and who delight in the suffering of others.

Every human can be redeemed, but we cannot redeem them. That has always required a deity or an afterlife or some cosmic source outside ourselves. Modern societies organize themselves with deity as an option, but not a requirement. We’ve over-learned the lessons from our past.

Magical thinking inhibits our problem-solving. Religions divide people. Our bloodiest crusades have been carried out in God’s name. We’ve used an afterlife to justify brutality in this one. Visualizing a God who loves us has excused us from loving one another and ourselves.

Our progress has hit a limit. God needn’t comfort the afflicted. Prosperity can handle that now. But our need for a cosmic force to respond to evil has not diminished. We can’t create heaven on earth without there being also a hell.

We haven’t built an effective societal response to evildoers, to bullies, to nihilistic narcissists. From schoolyard name-calling to world wars, we’ve made ourselves blind to people who enjoy hurting other people. Hoarding resources that others need is hateful and evil. Greta was right to say we may not be forgiven for our selfishness, because we’ve banished from our garden the only force that can.

It is not for us to forgive evil. Our job must be to fight it.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at

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Celebrate and Remember Annette Montero

September 27th, 2019 by dk

Annette Montero died a month ago yesterday. Her red sleeping bag had holes in it, spewing a trail of feathers wherever she went. Unable to get to her usual place, she slept in a downtown alley, near a Dumpster.

Annette Montero’s life ended when a garbage hauler was making his pre-dawn rounds. Even if he saw the ragged red sleeping bag on the pavement, why would he have guessed there might be a body inside it? Nobody should be sleeping in an alley beside a garbage container. We all agree about that.

Annette Montero was not having a good day when most people last saw her. She resisted attempts to put her feather-spewing bag inside another bag. She wouldn’t let her bicycle out of her sight. She cut in line at the Sunday Interfaith Breakfast, but others let it slide. We’ve all had bad days before.

Annette Montero’s day got worse. Her bicycle was probably stolen, just as she had feared. When a downtown guide told her she had to move along, she asked about renting a parking space for the night. If cars could stay safely overnight, why couldn’t she? There’s a haunting logic to what might have been her last request.

Annette Montero’s last meal was not the breakfast she ate alone in the basement at First Christian Church. She was visited later by a volunteer for Eugene’s Burrito Brigade. They feed the homeless every weekend, delivering burritos under bridges, on the riverbank, and in alleys.

Annette Montero danced with the volunteer who had brought her a burrito, captured on a nearby surveillance camera. It’s good to know there were at least those moments of impromptu joy in her final hours.

Annette Montero died from homelessness, although that’s not what’s officially recorded. Lane County doesn’t keep records of how many people die from living outside in harsh conditions. Or waiting too long to seek medical help. Or being unable to defend themselves while sleeping.

Annette Montero became a statistic one month ago, but she never stopped being a person. Her family will gather today at noon for a memorial service at First Christian Church, which was undoubtedly the last roof she saw over her head. You’re invited to join her brother and sister and daughter today to say good-bye, but also thank-you.

Annette Montero’s name must stay with us, so that each person sleeping without shelter in Eugene is never reduced to a statistic, an abstraction, a societal problem. Thomas Egan froze to death on December 18, 2008 and Eugene responded, “Never again.” Thomas Egan Warming Centers have been active on cold nights ever since.

Sunday Interfaith Breakfast has been serving a hot morning meal to the homeless every week since 2012. As they feed 300 people, volunteers learn their guests’ names, their stories, their individual histories. Those histories must be joined with ours now. We can say “Never again” by adding to the breakfast’s title the beautiful name of Annette Montero.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at Details for Annette Montero’s memorial service can be found at

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Call Our Mass Killings What They Are

August 16th, 2019 by dk

If we can agree on only one thing about guns in America, it’s that the debate has become stale. Both sides are entrenched. Every argument is well-rehearsed. Patterns of response have become so predictable that they invite parodies from all sides. The issue must be reframed if there’s to be any hope for change.

The most recent mass shootings might not have attracted so much attention, except that they happened within hours of each other. Twenty-two people were killed and more than two dozen were injured at a shopping mall in El Paso, Texas. Hours later, nine people were killed and dozens injured at a popular nightlife district in downtown Dayton, Ohio.

By any objective measure, mass shootings are becoming more frequent in the United States. It was inevitable that two shooters would eventually share a national headline. This is what prompts my modest proposal. If we can’t figure out a way to reduce mass killings, we may need to regulate and schedule them.

We should acknowledge this ongoing horror as the ritualized human sacrifice that it is. Then we can coordinate our nation’s thoughts and prayers. We can schedule our national grieving. Speechwriters can work a new spin on an old topic. We can shop and dance and worship without fear on shooting-free days between scheduled sacrifices.

Some would say religion has lost its hold on modernity. Others see our unquestioned beliefs simply shifting to more material matters.

Think of the superstitions that support our status quo. Any new gun regulations will reduce our overall freedoms and leave people less able to protect themselves from government overreach. Freedom and prosperity have expanded together for generations, so losing a holster might hurt our pocketbook. Our founding fathers had Nostradamus-like foresight into how modern society should be organized, so the 2nd amendment is sacrosanct. Nothing can be changed, even as we all wish things could be different.

Superstitions eventually require oblations. We’ve reached that point.

Author Shirley Jackson has been shocking high school students since 1948 with “The Lottery.” Nuclear holocaust was Jackson’s new fear. Domestic terrorism is ours.

In her short story, traditional families gather in the town square for the annual lottery, disdaining other villages where the tradition has been abandoned. One old-timer warned against change. “Used to be a saying about ‘Lottery in June, corn be heavy soon.’ First thing you know, we’d all be eating stewed chickweed and acorns. There’s always been a lottery.” The person chosen in the annual lottery is stoned to death.

Are we living differently now? We use ritual to mark time, just as Jackson’s villagers.

“Seems like there’s no time at all between lotteries any more.” Mrs. Delacroix said to Mrs. Graves in the back row.

“Seems like we got through with the last one only last week.”

“Time sure goes fast.” Mrs. Graves said.

Time sure goes fast for everyone participating in the ritual, except for the “winner,” for whom time stops altogether. Given our current predicament, we need a fresher and more honest discussion about what we’re doing and why we’re allowing it.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at Jackson’s short story can be read here:

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Self-Selection is Diversity’s Natural Predator

August 16th, 2019 by dk

Last week’s decision to appoint Jim Torrey to the Eugene School Board reminded me of an implicit promise I made to readers ten years ago. After engineering a little social experiment, I wrote a 2009 column about the experiment and pledged to update readers on its long-term effects.

We say we want diversity on our boards and in our clubs, but there’s another force that works against it. Self-selection is diversity’s natural predator.

Here’s how I described it a decade ago. “Like sad replicas of Charlie Chaplin’s little tramp, a hidden force kicks the hat [of diversity] away from us, just as we’re about to reach it, over and over. We reach for the hat of greater diversity with all the best intentions, but just as it’s almost within our grasp, our own comforting foot of [self-selection] kicks it away. That only increases our resolve, which starts the cycle again.”

Even though Torrey lost his re-election, and other qualified candidates were available, the four returning board members overruled the two new members and chose Torrey to fill a vacant seat. His experience and their familiarity outweighed other factors.

Ten years ago, I led the Round Table Club of Eugene to remove self-selection from its membership recruitment process. We invited new members who were vetted by the Eugene Area Chamber of Commerce or by the University of Oregon’s Tenure Review Committee. We welcomed a dozen new members without knowing them personally. So, how did that work out for the club?

I can’t speak for the club itself, but here’s what I’ve observed. The long-term effects have been mixed. A few members quit on the spot, resenting the idea that current members may not be most qualified to choose future members. Several others drifted away slowly, possibly because the club felt less comfortable — less “clubby.”

One year later, the club decided not to repeat the experiment, returning to the old way of doing things. A handful of that unusual membership class became active members. Some rose to leadership positions.

Cohesion inside the group seems to have waned, but it’s impossible to identify a single cause. Everyone’s life is busier now. We’re more tethered to our phones for more hours each day. We’ve all gotten older.

The club’s new leaders have accelerated a different trend, at least to my eye. History and tradition — important elements to a club formed in 1912 — are less a constraint now. Those who instituted those traditions were no longer solely responsible for the new members’ inclusion. Original intent behind each tradition is available in the archives, but not deemed dispositive.

Diversity accelerates adaptation, once self-selection has been removed. Allegiance to one another and to those who came before occurs less naturally, and so less often. History has less sway on the future. Nothing seems quite as comfortable, but that might be my nostalgia speaking.

If our experiment is relevant to the Eugene School Board, returning Torrey to their ranks by self-selection may increase cohesion but inhibit change. Keeping things comfortable will naturally also keep things the same.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at Kahle’s earlier column on the topic is here:

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Outrage is Not Easily Contained

August 10th, 2019 by dk

I don’t attend many parties. It’s just not my idea of a good time, watching people vie for attention, competing with one another. I left two get-togethers over the past few weeks early — each for the same reason. That reason is not unrelated to recent headlines about gun rampages. It’s also relevant to the latest controversy on campus.

At the first party, people were chitchatting about innocuous topics, doing no harm to anyone. The conversation somehow landed on airline mishap stories, with each person telling a more harrowing tale than the last. It became weirdly reminiscent of scouts telling spooky stories around a campfire.

Sharing little frights can be a pleasant way to pass the time. But it didn’t stop there. Which airports are the least convenient? Which airlines have the worst policies? What’s the worst excuse you’ve received from customer service?

I felt bad for those poor employees, who became the characters in the stories we were swapping. They weren’t at the party to defend themselves or to fill in details that might have made each story less absurd. They were straw men, buttressing our judgments.

That wasn’t a fun discussion for me, so I exited early. Less than a week later, something similar happened. This time the company person, a Starbucks barista, was cast as a hero. A rude customer played the villain. He was asking for a free cup of ice on a very hot day.

The young employee told the man that she wasn’t allowed to fill his outside cup with ice. He became angry. “I understand that it’s the rule,” he bellowed at the teenage girl, “but it’s a bad rule!” He continued berating the poor employee, with my friend watching as the next person in line.

Unable to persuade the employee to violate store policy, the non-customer raised the rhetorical stakes. Slavery was a “bad rule” that he certainly wouldn’t have followed. (He was white. She was not.) Equating a cup of ice with owning another human being blew things out of proportion in a hurry, but it also did something else.

Everyone at the party leaned in, hanging on every word. “Can you believe this?” “What happened next?” “I hope you left that poor girl an extra tip!”

I watched how outrage brought people together more powerfully than anything else. It worried me. Outrage is rage aimed at outsiders. Both halves of that formula are dangerous. We don’t usually have the tools or the courage to stop what we’ve started.

Shared outrage gets everyone’s attention, and who doesn’t like that? But who among us will step in its path to slow its spreading destruction? I left the parties early, but that was hardly a profile of courage. We must learn to identify a straw man before setting it aflame, whether it’s invading immigrants, a heritage statue, or a cup of ice.

Outrage at somebody who isn’t named or known will draw rapt attention. But rage spreads in ways we cannot predict or control. The same force that quickly brings us together can just as quickly blow us apart.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at

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Simple Fixes to Overly Dramatized Democratic Debates

August 9th, 2019 by dk

Nobody I know was happy with the first two sets of Democratic presidential debates. Most are hoping against hope that the field is winnowed sufficiently before the next debate(s) in September. We’re all tired of the circus spectacle — watching too many clowns exiting too small a car.

I don’t blame the number of candidates for the numbing nonsense we’ve seen so far. I blame the networks. I’m astonished that we allow networks to interrupt the presidential debate to sell commercials to the highest bidders.

Moderators drum up intra-party conflicts to liven up the action because that’s their job. Tension increases ratings. Viewers stay engaged, ready to be served up to the advertisers. Everybody wins, except democracy. The fabricated controversies are out of proportion and stripped of context.

Also-rans, positioned at the edges, lobbed incendiary assertions at the frontrunners in the center. Montana Gov.Steve Bullock accused Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren of “wish list economics.” Former Maryland representative John Delaney labeled their Medicare-for-all plan an “impossible promise.”

The next night New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio could barely be distinguished from the hecklers in the audience, badgering former vice president Joe Biden from one end. Author Marianne Williamson dismissed the whole event as nonsense from the other.

Those polling at less than one percent popularity had nothing to lose. The moderators egged them on to attack the frontrunners in the middle. Viewers did not gain a more nuanced understanding of the issues at hand.

If we can’t ask networks to forego the revenue they receive from advertisers, it’s not too late to make future debates more substantive and less silly.

The networks could use a journalist who is not on their payroll to moderate the debates they broadcast. There are plenty of print journalists who know the issues, but don’t care about ratings. They wouldn’t feel a need to drum up drama that could earn bonuses for their bosses.

It’s bad enough that ten candidates are elbowing one another for screen time. Do we really need three more voices in the room? A single moderator for each debate, who is not on the payroll of the broadcasting network, would do a better job.

That won’t happen, because the networks want to build their brands as much as the candidates do, so I have an even simpler plan that would curb the worst aspect of the debates we’ve seen so far. The Democratic National Committee could simply ban the split-screen video effect.

If a candidate on the end wants to attack a candidate in the middle, the reaction shot would have to widen to include the three or four candidates who are standing between them. Those wide-angle shots are less captivating, so networks will naturally try to avoid them.

When the two front-runners engage at center stage, nothing will change. Show candidates going toe-to-toe, but only those who actually are toe-to-toe. Viewers will see what audience members are seeing, not a special-effect video screen that heightens a tension that isn’t there, or shouldn’t be.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at

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Glenwood’s Indoor Track Facility: A Few Questions

August 3rd, 2019 by dk

I’m as excited as anyone by the prospect of an indoor track facility in Glenwood. My son recently bought his first house in Glenwood, motivated partly by the aspirational plans for the area. The listing agent shrewdly posted them in the dining room to capture a buyer’s attention.

We’ve known for decades that Glenwood will boom soon. We just didn’t know from which direction that boom would come. A surge from the east would return the area to its West Springfield roots, extending downtown as it did a century ago.

The burst could have come from the north, replicating the mix of hotels and shopping in the Gateway area. But now it looks like the energy and vision will come from the west, extending the reach of the University of Oregon and meeting some pent-up demands that downtown Eugene and the Lane Events Center can’t accommodate.

Springfield Mayor Christine Lundberg, former TrackTown USA leader Vin Lananna, and TrackTown USA CEO Michael Reilly are solidly behind the project. “We’re working away madly,” Lundberg said. “We’re meeting every week … to make sure that the indoor track is as much a world-class facility as Hayward Field is.”

I have some questions.

Lundberg characterized the track facility as Springfield’s “priority 1A” and a convention center as “priority 1B.” Can one start without the other, or are their fates conjoined?

If the two don’t have to be connected, can the track be built on the inland side of Franklin Boulevard? River views won’t be critical to its success. Another skybridge could always be added over Franklin if necessary.

Travel Lane County representative Andy Vobora described the planned facility as “multi-use,” but that can be interpreted many ways. How will such a large and prominent development be designed so that it’s active all the time?

What will be the University of Oregon’s role in building and maintaining it? They’ll certainly want space for practice and training, but the multi-use aspect promises other opportunities. Poorly conceived sports facilities can become urban “dead zones,” producing a net loss for its neighborhood’s safety and economy.

More to the point, how (and how publicly) will Phil Knight be involved? Will he pay for head-turning architectural design that matches Hayward Field?

Lundberg announced, “We want cranes up by the spring of 2021.” Does that mean its exterior shell could be up in time for 2021 World Championships? The area’s leaders are determined to project imagination and ambition during our moment in the sports world spotlight. Having this structure rising from the ground by July 2021 will tell the world that TrackTown USA isn’t slowing its pace anytime soon.

Parking will always be a bone of contention when a large-capacity structure is sited near neighborhoods. Will this project include a sky tram over the river, allowing Autzen stadium’s plentiful parking to serve this facility, as well as Hayward Field, Matthew Knight Arena, and general campus needs?

Some questions will be answered quickly. Others may be debated for years. Fortunately, TrackTown USA made that name for itself first with long-distance running.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at

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Eugene Needs a Fringe Festival

August 2nd, 2019 by dk

Eugene is still searching for a replacement to the Eugene Celebration, which eventually became a victim of downtown’s success. The Whiteaker Block Party resembles the Celebration’s early years, but it lacks broad appeal and wide renown. Other attempts have struggled to raise enough financial support.

I may have just the thing. Eugene could host a Fringe Festival.

I stumbled across the Rochester Fringe Festival last fall, and learned there are more than 100 Fringes around the world. I googled “how to start a fringe festival.” The second hit was on an academic site in the United Kingdom. This wasn’t surprising because the worldwide Fringe Festival movement began in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1947.

The surprises came quickly after that. The document I downloaded was titled, “On The Fringe: A Practical Guide to Creating a Fringe Festival in Portland, Oregon.” It was Chelsea Bushnell’s thesis project for her Arts and Administration degree from University of Oregon. Bushnell was born and raised in Eugene. She graduated from South Eugene High School.

I tracked her down in Portland, where she has worked for various arts organizations since completing her degree in 2004. She hasn’t executed the guidebook she wrote 15 years ago, but she’d love it if someone in Eugene did. “Eugene is so Fringy!” she exclaimed to me this week.

To deepen my understanding of “fringy,” I’ve been working at the Capital Fringe Festival in Washington, DC. I agree with Bushnell’s assessment. Eugene is definitely fringy.

Fringe Festivals share several defining characteristics. They are as inclusive and diverse as possible, offering every sort of stage performance imaginable. They not only run on modest budgets — they celebrate that. They commandeer leftover spaces — empty storefronts, parks, church basements, building lobbies, even random parking spaces. Performers are vetted for safety and technical requirements, but are not juried.

Taken together, Fringe promotes risk-taking by artists and audiences alike. Entry fees and ticket prices are low. Nothing is guaranteed, except the unexpected. People come together, bound only by curiosity. As it turns out, that’s often enough.

Bushnell and her mother have attended Fringes across Canada. She’s traveled to Scotland to see what has become the largest performing arts festival on the planet. “I still dream of Fringe Festivals and love building my vacations to attend them and see new cities,” she told me.

Oddly, there are no Fringes in the Pacific Northwest — nothing between San Francisco and Vancouver, British Columbia. A town like ours, renowned for its risk-taking and frugality, could join the circuit. People love visiting Fringe cities.

In my three weeks managing a stage in Washington, a choir rehearsal room was transformed into an intimate theatre for six different one-person plays. We staged 29 performances, satisfied hundreds of audience members, and forged many new friendships.

We heard one lonely frog keeping perfect metronomic time with a pianist’s musical autobiography. An actor proposed marriage to his playwright girlfriend after their final performance. And I learned that glitter may never come out of a church’s sofa cushion.

Fringy indeed.

Eugene could start a Fringe Festival. After all, one of our own wrote the book on it.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at

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Oregon Could Attract Influencers With Incentives

July 26th, 2019 by dk

The best time to suggest even the slightest tweak to the state’s tax code is immediately after a legislative session ends. Lawmakers need time to internalize the suggestion. Once a legislator takes ownership of the idea, the complexities ahead can be navigated by that champion.

That incubation process slows innovative ideas. It may have been on the cutting edge when it was conceived, but dull or derivative when it’s born. Once it bursts into public view, it may look more like a clone than a baby.

Consider film production tax incentives. Oregon has them, but so do most other states. Everyone wants feature films to highlight the scenery and specialness of their state. Film crews spend plenty of money and the most successful projects can attract tourists for decades. How many people over the past 40 years have visited Cottage Grove, to see where Bluto’s gang disrupted the parade in “Animal House”?

Film professionals sometimes come for a tax incentive, but then stay. Oregon is a great place to live, filled with scenic vistas, but also filled with loads of interesting people. Attracting the creative class to live in Oregon provides long-term benefits. That justifies some short-term costs. Legislators like that equation. It’s the public policy version of a truism in business. Sometimes you have to spend money to make money.

Film production subsidies are yesterday’s news, so what will be tomorrow’s? Podcasts and video shorts.

Podcasts have a low threshold for entry. Anyone with a smart phone can start one. Videos likewise can be made with the equipment most of us carry around in our pocket. People who succeed in this arena sometimes earn a good living. They are called “influencers.”

These productions don’t take a lot of money to start, but they do require some investment from their creators. If anyone can do it, and they can do it from anywhere, why not make Oregon one of the first places to roll out the welcome mat?

The popularity of these productions will continue to increase, but eventually there will be too many of them. When that happens, there will be a shake-out. The herd will be culled, because that always happens. Nothing expands indefinitely.

It’s when things start to get harder that the most talented or ambitious will emerge from the pack. They will be hunting for advantages over their competition. That’s what Oregon could position itself to offer them.

Since most of these productions require only a modest investment to launch, Oregon should try something bold. Tax breaks for film productions in Oregon require budgets that exceed a million dollars. A tax incentive aimed at these new “influencers” should have no minimum investment required. An immediate tax benefit for small productions who are starting with nothing but a dream and an iPhone would attract talent to Oregon.

If podcasts and video shorts received even a modest tax advantage, how many “influencers” will choose Oregon for their home base? Not all will stay and not many will succeed, but the state’s investment would be small. That should be filling some legislator’s imagination during their current idle moments.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at

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There Is Some Fakery in Our News

July 26th, 2019 by dk

If I learned anything from marriage counseling, it was this. It’s always best to assume your partner’s complaints are not 100 percent wrong. Discovering what part of their complaint is true will benefit you, even if the relationship cannot be mended.

This presidential administration has had a fractious relationship with news media outlets that cover him. Editors and reporters struggle with how and whether fabrications uttered by the president should be conveyed. The president’s instinctive counterpunch has been to label us “fake news.”

Did you see what I did there? I used the word “us.” I included myself.

Beat reporters are trained to avoid such pronouns, except when quoting other people. We’re taught to paint ourselves out of the picture. Even columnists, who have the privilege of using first person singular pronouns, are generally discouraged from using “we” or “us” to refer to the larger enterprise of news gathering and news reporting.

We portray ourselves — hide ourselves, really — as dispassionate observers. And that’s fake. The truth is, most of us got into this business because we enjoy being steeped in the details of public life. Chasing corruption, mastering arcanum, collecting data, connecting dots — it’s not always fun for us, but we believe it’s honorable work.

We hide ourselves because we believe the story deserves your attention, not us. That’s good practice, as far as it goes. But detaching ourselves has subtle consequences. If we report that a falling tree made a sound where no one could hear it, we seem to be solving the ancient philosopher’s puzzle. But we didn’t solve it, because that’s not exactly what happened. We were there. We heard it. (The philosopher never contemplated whether a tree falling “off the record” makes a sound if no one hears it.)

When the passive voice seeps into our narrative, it keeps readers from seeing us and our process. In the worst cases, it gives readers inaccurate impressions. We shouldn’t allow grammarly conventions that deny our readers the most accurate account.

Take just one example: the phrase “could not be determined.” It pops up in news accounts all the time, usually as a coda at the end of a paragraph. If we pull back the curtain a bit, that phrase means different things.

The editors may believe additional information should have been obtained but the reporter failed to ask the necessary follow-up questions and sources couldn’t be reached for clarification before deadline.

The questions may have been asked and the source didn’t have an answer. Or they may have refused to answer. Or they may have answered, but only off the record. Corroborating that background information another way may have failed, or it may not have been attempted.

“Could not be determined” — in other, clearer words — has at least four different meanings: We didn’t ask; we don’t know; we can’t prove; we can’t say. What do each of those more accurate accounts have in common? “We.”

If we admit that President Trump is at least a little bit correct when he accuses us of being “fake news,” it will make us better and it will give readers a more accurate view of the world around them. Will our admission mend the rift between us and the president? That could not be determined.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at

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